At yesterday’s "Peace & Justice Rally for Muhlaysia Booker,” I was reminded of 214 Trans4m's “Resurrection” — featuring Tommie Ross as Erykah Badu + Nefertari.
Happy Easter, y’all.
3,000-year-old Egyptian messages tell us that civilization’s greatest value was conquering the terrors of death.
Once a blockbusting attraction, the Forest Theater now reflects White Flight’s deterioration upon a progressive metroplex.
The theater’s towering neon sign is named after Forest Avenue, the crosstown spine that links South Dallas to East Oak Cliff. Until 1880, Forest Avenue was spelled with two Rs — a nod to Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Ku Klux Klan’s first Grand Wizard.
In 1930, cinema impresario M.S. White built the Forest Theatre, a $40,000 air-cooled “talking picture house.” Interstate Circuit (which managed Dallas’ Majestic, Arcadia and Highland Park theaters) took over the Forest in 1932.
That initial Forest venue perished in a fire.
Coinciding with Central Expressway’s expansion, a “new” Forest Theater opened in 1949. Catering to a white clientele, the Forest was the Southwest’s largest suburban palace. Black ticketholders were confined to the balcony.
Throughout the ’40s, blacks faced housing troubles all over Dallas. But mortgage houses didn’t vigorously oppose migration to the city’s southern side.
By 1952, South Dallas was 90-percent black.
Adhering to segregation norms, Forest Avenue High School was designated a black facility in 1956 and renamed James Madison High School. That year, the Forest Theater “reopened” as a “de lux movie house for Negroes.”
The building remained a cinema until 1965, when managers announced the Forest’s closing due to lack of patronage.
For decades, the Forest alternated between standing vacant and hosting a variety of theater-nightclubs that lured the likes of B.B. King, Al Green, The Byrds, Tina Turner, James Brown and Gladys Knight.
In June 1976, Forest Avenue was rechristened Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard. A young Erica Abi Wright could walk to the Forest from her home near Julius Schepps Freeway. On the big screen, she watched Bruce Lee’s slow-burn martial artistry in “Enter the Dragon” and Pam Grier’s brown-sugar ass-kicking in “Coffy.”
Erica later became Erykah Badu.
Badu began renting the empty and dilapidated Forest in 2003. The property wasn’t for sale, and Badu almost went bust bringing the 16,000-square-foot building up to code.
She changed the name to The Black Forest Theater and painted its front doors with a fist-handled Afro pick. The Black Forest housed Badu’s charity, B.L.I.N.D. (Beautiful Love Inc. Non-profit Development), which provided a soup kitchen, as well as youth-arts programs. The Black Forest’s marquee regularly spelled out Badu-like aphorisms preaching unity and community.
The theater experienced a scintillating revival as Dallas’ hottest after-party. At Badu’s invitation, Dave Chappelle, Snoop Dogg, The Roots and Jill Scott entertained lucky guests until the dawn’s early light. Following his 2004 American Airlines Center sellout gig, Prince headed to the Black Forest for a royal jam- session that patrons enjoyed for a mere $20 admission.
Egypt’s ancient symbol for imperishable life is the ankh. When Prince transformed into “The Artist Formerly Known As...” his name was represented by an ankh-like character that incorporated both the male and female astrological symbols. Badu titled her 2010 album, “New Amerykah Part Two: (Return of the Ankh).”
The walls of Queen Nefertari’s tomb (1290 B.C.) narrate the passage to the afterlife. Throughout her journey to the great unknown, Nefertari is depicted as wide-eyed, cheerful and wearing a bird-like cap, which represents Mut — the hermaphroditic vulture deity, who’s sometimes depicted with breasts; sometimes with an erect penis.
Badu hoped to transform the Forest into cultural landmark, much like New York’s Apollo Theater. Her noble dream proved to be unsustainable for just one person.
However, the Forest Theater — now for sale but in serious disrepair — awaits another revival.
‘QUEEN NEFERTARI + ERYKAH BADU:’ TOMMIE ROSS
LOCATION: THE FOREST THEATER, 1920 MARTIN LUTHER KING JUNIOR BLVD. | ACCESSORIES: BRIAN ALDEN | STYLING: RICHARD D. CURTIN HEADDRESS: KENT PARKER | MARQUEE DESIGN: L.C. CORTEZ | WARDROBE CONSULTANT: CHARLES YUSKO
PRODUCTION DATE: MARCH 22, 2013 | PHOTOGRAPHY: BRYAN AMANN | DIRECTION: DANIEL KUSNER